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A Physio’s guide to working from home



Almost 50% of us are reported to have worked from home (WFH) at points during the pandemic1 and with perching on breakfast bar stools or slouching on beds and sofas, there is a high chance our WFH postures haven’t been all that great.

So, we grabbed our in-house physios and asked them to explain how WFH life might have affected us, and what we can do to improve postural pain (a common cause of aches and pains when WFH).

What is postural pain?

Your posture is the position in which you hold your body when standing or sitting. Postural pain happens when you sit or stand for a prolonged period of time in a way that your body isn’t designed for, such as slouching.

Postural pain is common in the neck, upper and lower back and hips. One of our physios, Sandeep Nageshwararao, explains why these aches and pains happen.

Neck

When working at a computer, many people hold their heads forward. This puts increased stress on the neck and causes the neck muscles and upper back muscles to overwork, leading to pain from the strain and spasms.

If this isn’t corrected, it can cause

  • Disc herniation and disc bulges
  • Spinal degeneration such as osteoarthritis (wear and tear)
  • Reduced movement

You can improve your neck posture by making sure your ears are positioned directly above your shoulders, with the chest open and shoulders back. In this position, stress on the neck is lessened because the head’s weight is naturally balanced on the cervical spine (the bones in the neck).

Upper back

Upper back pain is typically due to poor posture. The muscles of the shoulder are attached by large muscles to the shoulder blade. Due to the repetitive movements our arms and shoulders make when sitting at a desk or computer, these large upper back muscles are prone to getting tight and strained.

If this isn’t corrected, it can lead to:

  • Shoulder impingement
  • Rotator cuff problems

You can reduce the risk of upper back pain by following our top tips below on how to set up your WFH space so that it is ergonomic.

Lower back

Poor posture leads to increased stress in your muscles, the joints of your spine and the discs. These stresses may build up over time, slowly weakening the lower back.

Prolonged hunching while sitting can cause your back, core, and abdominal muscles to become strained and painful, in time developing stiffness and weakness in the lower back.

If not corrected, prolonged low back pain can lead to:

  • Muscle imbalance
  • Disc herniation and disc bulges
  • Degenerative changes such as osteoarthritis (wear and tear)
  • Sciatica

Hip

Prolonged hunching can lead to extra stress and load on the pelvic and hip joints. This can lead to joint and muscle irritation.

If not corrected long term it may lead to:

  • Greater trochanteric pain syndrome
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Gluteal tendinopathy

Preventing WFH aches and pains

Fortunately, most posture related aches and pains are short lived and eased if you move regularly. There are also practical things you can do to improve your workspace and reduce the risk of postural pain.

Setting up your ergonomic WFH space

Try to set up your home workstation similar to that of your office workstation. However, don’t worry if it does not match the office setup completely.

The following tips may help:

  • Use books to raise your laptop when working with a mouse and keyboard
  • Sit on cushions if needed to raise up your sitting height
  • You can use a box or something similar to act as a footrest
  • You can use a rolled up towel or small cushion positioned in the lower portion of your back
  • Increase the screen view size on your laptop i.e. over 100%
  • Aim to have your eyes level with the top third of the computer screen
  • Aim to have your back rest upright and perpendicular to the seat pan of the chair
  • Be close enough to your computer, mouse and keyboard so that you are not overreaching

And most importantly…

Your best posture is your next posture! Movement is key to preventing muscular aches and pains. Remember to take regular “micro – postural” breaks away from your desk, every 30-45 minutes to stretch and move.

If you’re finding yourself in a lot of pain with your neck, back or hips - our physios are available to consult, diagnose and treat you, all via the Babylon app.



References

  1. Covid-19 roundup. The Office of National Statistics. [Accessed 13/7/2020.] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19roundup/2020-03-26#homeworking